The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009
Edited by: Laura Furman

Vintage Anchor 2009
Trade Paperback/432 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-28035-0
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". . . a diversity of writers who open up a world of interesting characters . . ."

The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 edition is rich with global stories, from Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. It includes stories from the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, South Africa, Scotland and North America. This collection features a diversity of writers who open up a world of interesting characters caught in common human emotional conflicts, regardless of birthplace.



The O. Henry Prize has evolved since its first published collection of short stories in 1919. The Pen American Center, an international organization supporting writers, became a partner this year. Foreign citizens also qualify for the prize as long as the original story was first written in English and published in a North American magazine.

Three jurors, all former O. Henry prize winners, chose their favorite story from the twenty pieces selected. It is not a contest; all stories are equally prized. This year two jurors, A.S. Byatt and Tim O’Brien, unbeknown to each other or unaware of the authors, both selected Graham Joyce’s An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen, as their favorite. Joyce says he wrote this haunting story about a British soldier who is mysteriously rescued from death in the first Gulf War because of his rage and sympathy for soldiers damaged in that war.

Junot Diaz’s story, Wildwood, portrays the dramatic struggle between a rebellious daughter and her abusive, dying Dominican mother who has her own emotional and physical scars. This short story has been incorporated into Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize novel, The Wonderful World of Oscar Wo.

In addition the selected favorites, I was captivated by the pathetic Chinese housekeeper in Purple Bamboo Park, by E.V. Slate. She is drawn into personal battles involving a rich Chinese couple as she yearns to be accepted as part of their family, a grandmother to their child. The vivid scenes as she bikes through Beijing while acquaintances shout out warnings along the route sets the scene, tone and pace of this tragic story.

Another story that held special appeal for me because of the suspense was John Burnside’s The Bell Ringer, a dark tale of a woman’s loveless life in a Scottish village. She believes people in the town can hear her pain when she rings the bells.

The initial intent of the publication ninety years ago was to support short-story writers. This collection has gone beyond encouragement. It offers well-crafted stories, a variety of themes and different writing styles, all by extremely talented storytellers. Also included in this publication are essays from jurors on the rationale for their selections, as well as writers’ comments on their individual stories.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla